With all the pressing issues facing our country, the issues of climate change and the environment are the first prong of the “We’re Better Than This” platform because if we don’t address them head on right now, it will soon be too late. The good news is there is a lot we can do to turn the tide on this front in a way that not only leaves the world better for our children and grandchildren, it will make the world better right now.
I’ve got three classic songs–Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell, After the Gold Rush by Neil Young and Fall on Me by R.E.M—and a great book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert, to set the stage here. The songs all remain remarkably prescient many years later, and Kolbert’s book—which reads like an adventure story—vividly illustrates the impact humans are having on our environment and points the way towards solutions we all should get behind.
Yes, it is a daunting challenge, but there are a number of concrete steps we can take to turn the tide here.
For starters, we should try to further encourage market solutions to these issues wherever we can. The market already is starting to reward “going green,” and the least intrusive way we can accelerate that trend is by gradually phasing in a carbon tax that prices environmental costs into the market and thereby encourages conservation and greener alternatives.
We also can use government funding and other government programs to encourage good environmental behavior, what Michael Bloomberg aptly refers to as a “whole government approach.” It is reassuring that President-elect Biden already has expressed a commitment to pursuing this approach. Just two of many examples on this front include using farm subsidies to promote green practices—big agriculture is a big contributor to global warming today—and prioritizing the environment in trade deals and in our international leadership (i.e., the opposite of what we’ve seen the past four years on this front).
Making the environment central to new and future infrastructure plans is another key element. While I will have more to say about that in the infrastructure portion of the platform later this week, key examples include modernizing the electrical grid, investing in broadband to reduce unnecessary travel, and testing out new technologies like carbon capture.
And lastly, we should continue to use regulation to gradually push governments and the market towards greener behavior (e.g., raising fuel economy standards in vehicles) and to protect key ecological assets like the Great Lakes and endangered plants and species.
There is no one size fits all solution here, but so many things we can do to accelerate the many good efforts already underway throughout the country and the rest of the world and set the stage for a greener future that benefits all Americans.